Sandra Tsing Loh takes another look at the dissatisfaction that plagues the modern Western woman, and as usual comes to no useful conclusions, but makes interesting, insightful observations along the way.
The title, “The Weaker Sex,” suggests it’s another one of those “we’re better than men” pieces, but it really isn’t about that. In fact, her piece questions why women, despite having lives that approximate the 1950s patriarch, are so unsatisfied. She doesn’t resort to the typical accusation that men don’t do their fair share around the house, because, after all, in her circles the men do a lot. They spend a lot of time cooking, shopping, taking care of the kids, and other tasks.
However, for some reason, women can’t come home from work like Ward Cleaver and relax with slippers and a pipe.
I’ve written before that I suspect there’s something that bothers women on a sexual level about the role reversal, but Loh brings up another issue: a sense of ownership. It’s something I hadn’t thought of before, but it makes sense.
The gentle, almost Beatrix Potter–y images make me feel weepy; they actually draw a tear as I remember my own German grandmother—the homemade chicken soup with fresh-from-the-garden parsley, the warm strawberry crumble cake in the afternoon on a rolling glass tray, the doilies on couch arms, the polished, chiming grandfather clock. And then there’s us: like Scarlett O’Hara, on our bellies in the dirt, wearing vinegar-scented T‑shirts, we raise our four-cup Pyrexes filled with sewage water!
Day by day in our frenetic, chaotic modern homes, how many of us become inexplicably unglued, suddenly losing our equilibrium in a disproportionate vale of anguish, as we open our refrigerator door (and what is that moisture our left foot is in—is it a puddle from the malfunctioning ice maker?) and confront the spillage from the leaking Ziploc bag or the microwave-deformed GladWare that forever will not close. On the one hand, these are a simple technical malfunction; on the other, they are another small but precise omen pointing to a world without the deep domestic comforts—and care, and arts—not of our mothers (many of whom were in a transitional leaving-home-to-go-to-work generation) but of our grandmothers, who still ruled the home with absolute power. No one is taking care of us! No one! And that is no small thing.
Having a salary – getting cash for your time – is a poor substitute for the feeling of having something of your own. Loh looks back to a time when women really owned the home, and misses it sorely. For men, I suspect feeling that you have a wife of your own, rather than one who divides her time between you and work, is probably sorely missed as well.
Today, however, more than ever our allegiance and our time is shared. Women are claimed as much by their jobs as they are by their families, and it appears to be causing them great psychic distress:
Further, not only do we 2012 women fail at being 1950s wives, we fail even more spectacularly at being 1950s husbands. In the Mad Men era, the archetypal dad came home; put down his briefcase; received pipe, Manhattan, roast beef, potatoes, key-lime pie; and was—apparently—content. By contrast, dwelling in a grayscale midlife purgatory of grinding Pilates and ever-shifting diets (Atkins? Zone? South Beach?), if we breadwinning women were handed a Manhattan at the end of the day, we’d be likely to burst into tears and wail, “What’s THIS? What’s IN this? Why are you UNDERMINING me?!” We 21st-century female monsters are used to fussy bistros featuring spa cuisine and quinoa and dressing on the side. These husband-cooks whom Mundy lauds, however, want to make us some risotto (too carby) even while we are curled up in the fetal position, sucking in our ever-present potbellies (which the 1950s Dad didn’t worry about), dreaming desperately of a Manwich.
Was it really liberating for women to cast off their duty to the family, only to find themselves slaves to their jobs and a judgmental, critical world? Did it create empowered, confident new women, or a generation of emotionally torn wrecks who feel deeply disappointed with their lives?
if we listen to the women themselves, it definitely appears to be the latter.